In the almost 15 years since St. Charles split into two high schools the Saints boys cross country team had never won a conference championship -- until Saturday.
The Saints scored 43 points to edge Batavia by a single point and win the Upstate Eight Conference River Division title at Leroy Oakes in St. Charles.
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"The program is going up in a big way," said St. Charles East coach Chris Bosworth noting the Saints also won the frosh-soph River title. "It's nice.
"Kudos to Batavia. They pushed us. We knew it was going to be a battle. They are a good team. We are a much improved team. There is still some work to be done."
The River and Valley Division teams ran the race together but the meet was scored separately. Interestingly, if the meet had been scored with all the runners instead of split by divisions, Batavia would have finished second behind Neuqua Valley but ahead of the Saints as the top team in the River.
"A little disappointing," Batavia coach Mike DiDomenico said. "The kids had high hopes as we all did. We were looking forward to the meet. My hat's off to St. Charles East. That's the best race I've seen them run. Credit to them. They performed well."
Obviously winning a title by 1 point takes contributions from the entire team. Bosworth pointed to sophomore Mark Scurba in particular for moving up to the second spot in his lineup. Scurba took fourth overall in 15:26.
Max Rowland led the Saints in third in 15:25. St. Charles East cut its split from 50 seconds down to 27 seconds with Lucas Werner (11th, 15:44), Mike Skora (12th, 15:49) and Mike Gerkin (13th, 15:52) rounding out the top five.
"We really stress that you have to find each other during the race and when you do you have to stick together because that's how you get it done," Bosworth said.
DiDomenico said getting David Morrison healthy again will make a big difference for the Bulldogs. Morrison ran Saturday but wasn't 100 percent with a 16:19.
Ryan Wieties (fifth, 15:30), Mitch Zabka (sixth, 15:33), Jordan Berendt (ninth, 15:36), Chris Orlow (10th, 15:37 and Patrick Redmond (14th, 15:55) led the Bulldogs.
"We'll start to lighten up," DiDomenico said. "This was the last hard week. I think we're doing OK. We'll find out the next two weeks.
"We need to get Morrison healthy, he had a little setback. I think if we are full speed we look to be one of those top five teams that go downstate at sectional time."
Geneva senior Blaine Bartel won the River Division and took third overall in 15:17.
Bartel, who missed the UEC meet last year with a sprained ankle, started the season strong running a 15:19 at Peoria.
But a bout with the flu a few weeks ago took some time to recover from, and Bartel was concerned after running a 16:10 on this same course two weeks ago.
That made bouncing back Saturday that much sweeter.
"He was really bummed a couple weeks because he was concerned he wouldn't be able to get back to where he was," Geneva coach Bob Thomson said. "It's (the finish) fantastic. He has worked his way all the way back."
Bartel certainly was happy after crossing the finishing line. While other runners were catching their breath or bent over in exhaustion, Bartel had a big smile as he talked to other racers and well-wishers.
"I've had a couple bad races so I guess it was adrenaline that got me going after the race," Bartel said. "I don't know. It felt good. I left it all on the course."
Bartel tried to overtake the two runners ahead of him, Nick Bushelle from Neuqua Valley and Bartlett's Dan Cotton.
"Turning the corner at 1 1/2 miles, I pushed it and stayed with the first and second runners. That was probably the best point for me," Bartel said. "I tried after a mile and a quarter, got a little rough, just racing, bumping shoulders, and I couldn't (pass Bushelle). I was hoping for top 10. That's (winning the River) just amazing. I'm happy. I came back stronger than ever."
Senior Nathan Klair ran a 15:25 to finish second in the River and lead St. Charles North. Teammate Kevin Davis was seventh in 15:34.
Valley Division: Nick Bushelle and his Neuqua Valley teammates ran away from the competition Saturday at the Upstate Eight Conference meet at Leroy Oakes.
Bushelle's time of 14:59 beat runner-up Dan Cotton from Bartlett by 14 seconds.
"I wanted to be right around 15," said Bushelle who ran the best time of his season at 14:50 to take sixth last month at Peoria. "One guy (Bartel) tried to take the lead and I didn't let him. I just surged."
The Wildcats were just as impressive as a team scoring 23 points to finish well ahead of Waubonsie Valley (70), Bartlett (71) and the rest of the Valley.
Daniel Weiss (third, 15:25), Michael Widmann (fourth, 15:34) and James McEneaney (sixth, 15:38) gave the Wildcats four of the top six runners. They also had seven of the top 11 in the Valley.
"Our training is a little different," Bushelle said. "We're running really tired until sectional and state. Our performances don't reflect how in shape we are. Our team started off the season a little shaky but I think we are starting to pull together. We're in a rebuilding phase, a lot of our guys are freshmen and sophomores, but we're starting to put it together."
Cotton gained some more confidence with his runner-up race.
"I think this was a good projection meet for regional and sectional," Cotton said. "I'm really confident now I'm going to qualify for state and do something down there."
Like Bartel, Cotton tried to overtake Bushelle to no avail.
"I recognized the Neuqua guy, I knew that kid throws himself so hard the lap before the end of the race," Cotton said. "I just knew he was going to go for it right there. He did exactly that up the hill, but I just couldn't catch him. I wanted to so bad."
Cotton said he ran a slower first mile than he expected at five minutes flat before picking up the pace.
"I thought the race was going to be a lot faster because I knew the Neuqua guys were in there," Cotton said. "The Geneva guys took the early lead and we stayed back. The second mile we just hammered it together. My coaches tell me exactly where I need to be. They are the only voices I'm listening to (on the course) besides my parents. I just know where to move and when to move. There's a lot going on during the whole race."